Günther Uecker - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Friday, March 4, 2022 | Phillips

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  • Born at the beginning of the Great Depression, Günther Uecker is an artist who has endured hardship- living through war and dictatorship. The artist grew up on the Wustrow peninsula before leaving East Germany in 1953 to pursue his studies in art at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. The inner turmoil of being split between east and west Germany ‘definitely help me to understand my artistic work in a cross-border context, as I have always been in a state of inner conflict. I am, still, conflictedly, a product of my origins, and this shows in my work: not to create harmonies, but to drive this failure in my art to the point where it reveals itself as a reality, the integrity of a life lived, and where the complexity of cultural contradictions I have experienced within myself is expressed visually and creatively.’i 

     

    In 1961, Uecker joined his contemporaries Otto Piene and Heinz Mack in their recently formed ‘Zero’ artists group. The trio were united by their shared experience of witnessing the disastrous destruction of Germany during the Second World War. They developed a new visual language, no longer believing that painting was the best agent to depict the modern age, they expressed themselves on the foundations of science and poetic existential philosophy. Many of the works that were produced used light, colour and movement to highlight the potential of science whilst also drawing on Cold War concerns. 

     

    Heinz Mack, White Light Dynamo, 1964, Private Collection. Image: Albright Knox Art Gallery/Art Resource, NY/ Scala, Florence, Artwork: © DACS 2022

     

    Uecker began creating his signature nail pictures from in 1956-57. Nails are used by Uecker as a deeply personal form of expression. The nail is driven into the heart of the object, from pianos, chairs, tables, television sets and sewing machines, Uecker visually attacks the status symbols of a consumerist society. Throughout his practace, Uecker returns to the nail as a medium, persistently exploring its potential for loaded meaning, experimenting with a multitute of form, colour and size. Playing with circles, spheres and fields of nails alongside a sparse background, Uecker introduced the craftsman tool into the realm of high art. A symbol of religion and persecution, a hard and sharp object is made in Uecker’s hands to simultaneously appear smooth and non-threatening. The familiar metallic object is reimagined through Uecker’s repurposing, shocking us into a new way of seeing. 

    'I use nails as structural elements; I don’t want them to be seen as nails. In using these means, I’m concerned with creating an oscillation in their ordered relationship to one another, one that disturbs their geometric order, is capable of unsettling it… I consider mutability to be important; it is able to convey the beauty of movement.'
    —Günther Uecker

    In I Heard the Grass, That Was Rubbing Itself in the Wind, Like Violins, Like Grasshoppers That Chirp, 2009, the work pulsates with a sort of rhythm; protruding at different depths and angles, they create a musical beat, an emotional pattern. The hardness of the metal become soft and tangible, seeming to move on the surface. The title itself is poetic and lyrical, conjuring powerful imagery of these hard objects being transformed into blades of glass that rustle in the wind. 


    The use of white paint that covers some of the nail heads and the panel into which they are nailed, enhances the interplay of light and shadow. As the light shifts over the work, new levels of volume and depth are revealed. Contrasting the dark colour of the nail, Uecker bridles the meanings of white and abilities of light. For Uecker, light and white create a way of being in a separate world which exists alongside our material one: ‘A white world, I believe, is a humane world, in which people experience a colourful existence, in which they can be truly alive… The state of whiteness may be understood as prayer, and its articulation can be a spiritual experience.’ii The alternating beat of the nail formation, moving between light and dark, shadow and white, creates a mediative platform, and gives the viewer the ability to be transported to Uecker’s other world. 

     

    From 1990, the artist’s work became increasingly political. The physical act of nailing is central to understanding the many iterations of the nail in Uecker’s work. Questions are pinned and nailed into our consciousness – it represents not only aggression but reconciliation. As the artist stated: ‘Art cannot save the human race, yet thought the tools of Art one can create a Dialogue that encourages Man to act in defence of Mankind.’iii 

     

    Collector's Digest

     

    •    Born in Wendorf, Mecklenburg in 1930, Günther Uecker lives and works in Düsseldorf.

     

    •    Throughout the 1950s, Uecker sought out philosophies such as such as Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam. His fascination with purification rituals, such as the Gregorian chant, led him to engage in his own rituals of repetition, such as the hammering of nails for extended periods of time.

     

    •    He started integrating nails, corks and cardboard tubes into the surface of his canvases to create relief works which were closer to sculpture rather than painting.

     

    •    In 1961 Uecker joined Gruppo Zero (Zero Group), founded by Heinz Mack and Otto Piene. After the Gruppo Zero dissolved in 1966, Uecker shifted to creating works influenced by body, Conceptual, and Land art.

     

    •    Uecker has participated in many exhibitions, including Documenta 4, Kassel, Germany (1968), the Venice Biennale (1970), and numerous solos shows at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf (1983), a retrospective at the Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Munich (1990), and at the Ulmer Museum, Ulm, Germany (2010) to name a few.

     

    i Günther Uecker, quoted in Mechtild Bening, Iwona Bigos, Dirk Blubaum, Tiziana Caianiello, Britta Dombrowe, Michael Goden, Gerhard Garaulich, Moritz Jager, Ute Lemm and Gunther Uecker, Gunther Uecker: Portrat Mensch, Vienna, 2016, p.27
    ii Günther Uecker, quoted in Mechtild Bening, Iwona Bigos, Dirk Blubaum, Tiziana Caianiello, Britta Dombrowe, Michael Goden, Gerhard Garaulich, Moritz Jager, Ute Lemm and Gunther Uecker, Gunther Uecker: Portrat Mensch, Vienna, 2016, p.27
    iii Günther Uecker, Violations – Connections, New York, 2012, n.p.

    • Provenance

      Haunch of Venison, New York (acquired directly from the artist)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Literature

      Ahmed Alsoudani, 'Günther Uecker by Ahmed Alsoudani', BOMB Magazine, 1 January 2013, online (illustrated)

140

Ich hörte das Gras, das sich im Wind rieb, wie Violinen, wie Heuschrecken, die zirpen (I Heard the Grass, That Was Rubbing Itself in the Wind, Like Violins, Like Grasshoppers That Chirp)

signed, titled and dated 'Ich hörte das Gras, das sich im Wind rieb, wie Violinen, wie Heuschrecken, die zirpen Uecker 09' on the reverse of the left panel; signed and dated 'Uecker 09' on the reverse of the right panel
white paint on nails on canvas on panel, diptych
left panel 90.1 x 60 cm (35 1/2 x 23 5/8 in.)
right panel 90.2 x 60.4 cm (35 1/2 x 23 3/4 in.)

Executed in 2009. This work is registered in the Uecker Archiv under the number GU.09.027 and will be noted for inclusion in the forthcoming Uecker Catalogue Raisonné.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£200,000 - 300,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £403,200

Contact Specialist

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 4 March 2022